The Chicago police complain they arrest people all the time for the illegal possession of a gun, only to find the gun-toting goofs back on the street in the blink of an eye.
Former Police Supt. Garry McCarthy liked to cite the example of four men in a car who were arrested back on Aug. 29 in connection with a murder. Between them, the men had been arrested 65 times before, including ten times for gun offenses. One of the men was out on bond at that moment, charged with shooting into a house.
The roots of Chicago’s gun violence are long and tangled, but one contributing factor for which there is surely a doable solution is that our courts have no consistent policy or program for handling gun cases. Only when there is “swiftness and certainty” in gun possession cases, as McCarthy often said, will the bad guys think twice about carrying and using a gun.
Cook County Chief Judge Timothy Evans is exploring a solution that makes sense to us, though we’ll be the first to say it’ll have to prove itself and may not go far enough. Evans is considering establishing a courthouse “gun call.” A rotating panel of three judges would conduct bail hearings for every illegal gun possession case, which would be heard in a courtroom at 26th and California that’s normally reserved for violent crimes such as murders and sexual assaults.
The idea, as Frank Main of the Sun-Times reported Monday, is to impose consistency in how gun possession cases are handled, in a place that underscores the seriousness of the crime.
Evans has rejected a proposal, pushed by Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, the judge’s old political nemesis, to establish a full-time permanent gun court, saying there is “no evidence” it would reduce gun violence. The same could be said about a gun call, we would point out, so why not give either or both ideas a try?
What we absolutely know is not working in Chicago is the status quo, where 2,986 people were shot with guns in 2015. Waiting around for more studies is not an option.
Chicago has long been a national laboratory for research on urban social issues, dating to the 1920s and the University of Chicago’s revered “Chicago School” of sociology. Today, such hands-on institutions as the University of Chicago’s Crime Lab continue the good work. A gun call or gun court here could structured and studied to become a model for big cities across the nation.
Ideally, Cook County will move toward greater consistency not only when it comes to setting bail, but also in bringing charges and imposing sentences. The most common charge, typically used against those facing their first offense, is a Class 4 aggravated unlawful use of a weapon, which carries a minimum sentence of one year. With good time, that sentence can shrink to four months.
It is important to understand that the vast majority of shootings in Chicago occur in public places, statistics show, and typically are more impulsive than premeditated — sparked by a fight over a girlfriend, for example, or an insult.
If nobody had felt free to walk around carrying an illegal gun — if they had truly feared being arrested and incarcerated — many such crimes might never happen.
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